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July 1, 2013

Southside Mall's opening 30 years ago drew heavy traffic

The Daily Star

---- — A grand opening was still nearly a month away, but you’d have never known it on Thursday, June 30, 1983, as thousands of shoppers from our area crowded the newly opened Southside Mall, either to browse or to spend.

Kmart was one of many stores to open that day, but two others, the Great American food store and Alice’s Restaurant, had opened Tuesday, the day the town of Oneonta issued a temporary certificate of occupancy for the property.

“This mall is just what Oneonta needed,” said Gloria Mastro as she entered the Kmart. Not everyone agreed, as construction, which had begun the previous August, had been delayed for several years by opponents of the mall who fought the plan in court. Downtown Oneonta merchants said the mall would create unfair competition and force many merchants out of business. In the town’s East End, Oneonta’s first enclosed mall, the Pyramid Mall, was open but partially vacant.

The mall opening was a bit earlier than planned, as there was still a fair amount of landscaping to be completed. There was no traffic light in use at the entrance, but one was on order. Otsego County Sheriff’s deputies were directing traffic as a temporary measure.

“Business is fantastic,” said Ron Osborne, Kmart manager. By 1:30 p.m. he estimated that several thousand people had shopped in the store. Lines were long at the checkout aisles.

The other businesses opening that day included an electronic game center called Dream Machine, Bee Gee Records and Tapes, Schatz Stationery, Pants ‘n Stuff Shed House, the Snack Shack, Soft Pretzel Factory, Puffs ‘n Stuff Bakery, Len and Nancy’s Coin Shop and Le Salon, a unisex hair salon. The 190,000-square-foot mall was eventually expected to house nearly 35 stores.

The way was cleared on Thursday, July 14, for the construction of four movie theaters in the mall, each seating 210 to 240 patrons. Construction was planned to begin in the fall. Adjacent to the mall property, a McDonald’s restaurant had been approved by the Oneonta Town Planning Board, and a groundbreaking was scheduled that month.

The official grand opening of the Southside Mall took place beginning Wednesday, July 27, and was scheduled to last the next four days. The major store opening was J.C. Penney. This store had previously been located in downtown Oneonta, at the corner of Main Street and Ford Avenue. It had employed 10, but with the move to Southside, the number had increased to 75. Other stores opening that day included Fashion Bug, Walden Books and Kinney Shoes.

“Business has been strong all day,” said Ben Preston, manager of J.C. Penney. The businesses that had opened a few weeks earlier said that business had been “better than expected.”

Oneonta was introduced to its very first automatic teller machine at the Southside Mall, at the newly opened branch of the Oneonta Federal Savings and Loan. It was known as Metroteller, the first of its kind in about a 60-mile radius of Oneonta.

“Everyone benefits from the automatic teller,” explained John Knapp, the bank’s vice-president. “The customers can do quicker transactions 51 hours more a week than at one of our branches.” Knapp said that about 8,000 area bank customers who have the identification cards would soon have access to hundreds of automatic tellers in the United States.

The Southside Mall was sold in November of 1983 for $14 million, by Oneonta Associates to a Delaware-based company, Oneonta Mall Inc. The sale didn’t affect any business. The previous owners continued to operate the mall.

This weekend: A daily newspaper debuts in Richfield Springs in 1888.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at His website is His columns can be found at